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October 25: Father Coughlin

October 25, 2014

CharlesCouglinCraineDetroitPortraitCharles Coughlin, a priest whose weekly anti-Semitic broadcasts had a radio listening audience of up to thirty million Americans during the 1930s, was born in Hamilton, Canada on this date in 1891. Based in a Royal Oak, Michigan church, the National Shrine of the Little Flower, Father Coughlin began his broadcasting career as a supporter of Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal, but soon became a harsh critic of Roosevelt and began denouncing the “Jewish bankers” as well as “Jewish Bolsheviks” in terms that eventually landed him in the fascist camp. In 1934, he launched a political organization, the National Union for Social Justice, and a newspaper, Social Justice, in which he mixed populist calls for financial reform, nationalization of major industries, and protection of the rights of labor with anti-communism, anti-Semitism, isolationism, and quirky economic explanations for the Great Depression. This fetched him more than 10,000 letters a week in 1934, and gave him tremendous influence among his millions of suffering working-class listeners. It was this influence that prompted the federal government to require regular radio broadcasters to seek operating permits — which was denied to Coughlin, forcing him to purchase weekly air-time on individual stations to have his speeches read. Finally, once World War II broke out in Europe and Coughlin continued to urge U.S. neutrality and to express some ideological sympathy with Nazi and fascist views, he was driven off the air and had his mailing permits yanked, and Detroit Bishop Edward Mooney ordered him to cease his public activities or face being defrocked. Coughlin remained in his parish until 1966, and died at 88 in 1979. To see a newsreel documentary about Coughlin, look below. To hear Coughlin speaking about Jews and other matters, look below that.

“I have dedicated my life to fight against the heinous rottenness of modern capitalism because it robs the laborer of this world’s goods. But blow for blow I shall strike against Communism, because it robs us of the next world’s happiness.” —Father Charles Coughlin